Reel Risky Business: Chris Palmer, 'Shooting in the Wild,' at Politics and Prose

July 7, 2010


Filmmaker Chris Palmer used to design warships for the British Navy and then became a self-described “policy wonk” for former President Jimmy Carter. But Palmer was unfulfilled.

“I always wanted to do something worthwhile with my life,” he told Express. “I didn’t want to just waste it.”

By entering the world of documentary filmmaking, Palmer didn’t: With dozens of works, he captured nature’s beauty and shared it with the masses — until his conscience caught up with him. In May, he released “Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom,” and plans to promote it through a nationwide campaign to beat the drum for wildlife conservation.

Palmer — also the founder and director of American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking at the School of Communication — will talk about the book and discuss nature filmmakers’ mistakes when working with animals, on Saturday, July 10, at Politics and Prose. He spoke with us about what has shocked people about his book.

» EXPRESS: Why do you think it’s so hard to get people to pay attention to saving wildlife?
» PALMER: I think it’s always been a challenge, because the word “conservation” seems very “Eat your spinach.” … People come back from a day at work, they want to be entertained, they want to be distracted, they don’t want to be instructed. So you’ve got to do it in a very subtle way, and when I got into this business I did it with celebrities and stories and so on.

» EXPRESS: Were you always aware of the issues, including the hurting of animals?
» PALMER: It was only after 10 or 15 years when I began to reflect a little on it; I began to think, “Well, wait a minute — are these films really making a difference; are people really paying attention? And how do we know?” … I’ve been working on the book for 10 years, but … you’ve got to be an insider, you can’t be an outsider, because the things that go wrong are often very private. You only learn about them over a drink late at night, when people loosen up.

» EXPRESS: What kind of things about your book surprise people the most?
» PALMER: People … just assume that cinematographers like me put the camera out, record it and make films, and they’re kind of shocked that the animals aren’t always wild — they’re captive, they’re from a game farm. … You can see sometimes a story about an animal, and really it’s 10 different animals made up to look like one. It’s all tricks of the trade we use, and I come down on the side of, “Let’s be a little more honest, so there’s less deception.”

» Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Sat., July 10, 1 p.m., free; 202-364-1919. (Van Ness-UDC)

Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photo courtesy Chris Palmer

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